In another world, she could have been in the White House on Friday 3 June, heading into the final third of a two-term presidency. Instead she was in Colmans, a chippy in South Shields on Ocean’s Road, a weathered North Sea boulevard half an hour east of Newcastle.
Hillary Clinton – the first female senator for New York, and a former first lady, US secretary of state, and Democratic presidential nominee – is now a private citizen, but she keeps a retinue fit for the powerful: four bodyguards perched nearby as I approached her, seated for supper and surrounded by local dignitaries. She was in north-east England to give the South Shields Lecture at the invitation of former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband – a close friend of hers – who has run the event annually since 2001.
“He’s too charming not to be dangerous,” she said of me, charmingly, as I took up Miliband’s seat for a moment to talk with her. Up close, Clinton is slight but formidable, with a practice of nodding her head slightly and slowly as you speak, offering encouragement without agreement. I had met Miliband recently in London, and he had described the US, where he now lives, as “not just polarised but Balkanised: it’s not that different groups hate each other, it’s that they think the other group is actually a threat to the country”.
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